The Storytellers of Tomorrow

The 6th Annual "Storytellers of Tomorrow"
High School Creative Writing Contest

Accepting Entries October 15th through January 15th, 2021

The Ringling College of Art and Design Creative Writing Program was created to support, empower, and honor young writers. It’s an exciting time to be a writer thanks to the increasing number of narrative possibilities that new technologies and media offer. We believe that well-told stories can speak truths and communicate ideas in a way that nothing else can.

To that end, we’re inviting all high-school age students to submit unpublished, original English-language stories of up to 2,000 words in length for the 6th Annual “Storytellers of Tomorrow” Contest. The criteria for earning prizes in this contest is simply overall quality, meaning that well-edited, engaging, and evocative stories have the best chance of winning over the judges.  

Submission Guidelines        Prizes          FAQs        Past Winners


Submission Guidelines

Send your stories as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf attachment through email. Along with your submission, please include:

  • Your full name
  • Your current high school  
  • Your current grade level
  • A few sentences about your background in writing, your hobbies/interests, and/or anything else you’d like to share to give us a stronger sense of who you are

Submission Category 1: Literary Stories
Examples of this type of writing? Short fiction, flash fiction
Examples of writers who work in this vein? Tim O’Brien, O. Henry, John Green, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Robert Olen Butler, Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, and Lorrie Moore

Submission Category 2: Genre Stories
Examples of this type of writing? Horror stories, fantasy stories, mystery stories, science fiction, thriller stories
Examples of writers who work in this vein? Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allen Poe, J.K. Rowling, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Philip K. Dick, and Patricia Highsmith

Submission Category 3: Nonfiction Stories
Examples of this type of writing? Autobiographical essays, personal essay, creative nonfiction (including very well-written, story-based travel writing, nature writing, science writing, and/or biography)
Examples of writers who work in this vein? Lauren Hillenbrand (Unbroken), Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle), Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), John Burroughs (“In Mammoth Cave”), Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), Jorge Luis Borges (“Blindness”), E.B. White (“Once More to the Lake”), and Annie Dillard (“Seeing”)


Submission Address
(please include “Storytellers of Tomorrow 2021” in the subject line)

Submission Period
October 15, 2020 – Jan 15, 2021
(Winners will be notified in February 2021)

Initial Judges
The Ringling College of Art and Design Creative Writing Program faculty  

Entry Fee


Prizes in Each Category

1st prize:
A Ringling College of Art and Design t-shirt
An iPad
Plus an iPad for the winner’s high school writing teacher’s classroom


2nd prize:
A Ringling College of Art and Design t-shirt


3rd prize:
A Ringling College of Art and Design t-shirt  


Honorable Mentions:
A Ringling College of Art and Design t-shirt



Will the contest entries be published?
The top winner in each category will be offered the opportunity for their work to be published in Shift, the Creative Writing Program’s literary arts journal. Beyond that offer of one-time publication, authors retain all rights to their stories.

What if I win first prize but don’t want my work published?
That’s a decision we will respect.

Can I submit to more than one category?
Yes. Though each piece can only win a prize in a single category so please send different pieces if you’d like to contend in more than one contest category.

You say you want “unpublished” work. What does that mean?
If you wrote something for a school assignment, that’s fine. If your piece ran in your school newspaper or school literary magazine, that’s fine too.

If your piece ran in a national periodical of any type (USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Boy’s Life, Seventeen, etc.)? That’s published. The same is true with posting your piece in online forums, blogs, and websites (personal ones or Wattpad). And if your piece was included in any textbook or anthology, that too counts as being published.

If you have any questions about this, please email us to ask.

I want to send in something different than a traditional short story. Can I do that?
Absolutely. While many submissions will be traditional short stories, we are also quite open to graphic narratives, scripts, picture book manuscripts, comics, and other literary forms/blends.

I’m a poet. Can I submit a poem?
You may submit anything you choose up to 2,000 words long, though poetry without an extremely strong narrative component likely doesn’t fit well in any of the submission categories. This is primarily a prose narrative contest.

What type of stories/subjects/themes do you want?
That’s entirely up to you, though a familiarity with the genre/style you’re writing in will surely be of help to you.

What are the judges REALLY looking for?
High-quality writing that engages the reader.

What are the common issues with most submissions?
Here are three of the top reasons most entries don’t make the cut.

  1. Failure to follow the contest guidelines
  2. Poor editing/proofreading
  3. Cliché ideas/plots

I’m not an American citizen. Can I still submit?
If you’re a high-school-age student enrolled in a high-school curriculum and you’re writing in English? Yes.

I’m homeschooled. Can I enter the contest?
If you’re a high-school-age student enrolled in a high-school curriculum and you’re writing in English? Yes.

Is Ringling College associated with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus?
John Ringling was involved with the launching of the institution in 1931, but beyond that, we have no relationship to the circus beyond the association of his name. So the circus’ closing in 2017 had zero effect on Ringling College.

I’ve got a question that doesn’t seem to be answered anywhere. What do I do?  
Send in your question via email to with the subject line “Contest Question.”



1st place: “Beautiful Like Us” by Dana Serea, Rutherford High School (NJ)
Judges' Comments: "This present-tense, first-person story powerfully chronicles all four years of high school for this young narrator and her bestie, Lindsey in short, well-chosen moments that suggest a far larger context and passage of time. The commentary it ultimately makes on body image and self-worth is welcome and appropriate."

2nd place: “Wind” by Katherine Vandermel, Bergen County Academies (NJ)
Judges' Comments: "It's hard to imagine how a high-school-age writer can create a war story set in the 1940s that rings true, but that's what we witness here. Captured in pithy fragments and told with vivid details and raw emotion, this story lingers after the last line."

3rd place: Untitled, by Abigail Sinclair, Swansboro High School (NC)
Judges' Comments: "This story has a lot going for it--sharp dialogue, mythic overtones, captivating setting--but in some ways, it's as simple as this: A story that both starts and ends this well is always going to stand out."


Honorable Mentions

  • “Death is Life Without Time” by April Wang, Arnold O. Beckman High School (IL)
  • “A Fish Named Maninder” by Amelie Caceres, Bergen County Academies (NJ)
  • “Alarm[ed]” by Rae Flores, Lake Travis High School (TX)
  • "Roommates and Being Introduced to History” by Callie Matthews, Mississippi School of the Arts (MS)
  • “Dead Fish” by Annie Cao, Prospect Ridge Academy (CO)
  • “Tortellini with Pesto, Please” by Aditi Desia, Livingston High School (NJ)
  • “How to Become the Next Great American Poet” by Carly Noble, Summit High School (NJ)
  • “King of Bilan” by Adachi Amaram, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology (VA)
  • “Shipwreck” by Rachel Sun, Henry M. Gunn High School (CA)
  • “Manischewitz” by Maia Siegel, Interlochen Arts Academy (MI)



1st place: “The Bird-Eaters” by Anna Zheng, Paideia School (GA)
Judges' Comments: "From the first line, this story elegantly drops you into its world and keeps the reader enthralled with its compelling, quirky, and ultimately tragic characters. Terrific use of language on the sentence level and a lyric, somber conclusion."

2nd place: “Pigtails Girl” by Alex Berman, High School of American Studies at Lehman College (NY)
Judges' Comments: "This story draws the reader deep into the point of view of its disturbing protagonist, and is so effective because we are so well-placed inside her mind that the creepiness starts to feel like its our own thoughts."

3rd place: “Thalia” by Daniela Morales, Chicago High School for the Arts (IL)
Judges' Comments: "A lovely modern fable, this short script's natural dialogue and scene setting blends with the mythic elements to create an effective tale of struggle and self doubt that any creative person will identify with."


Honorable Mentions

  • “Cereal” by Palmer Strubhar, Piedmont High School (OK)
  • “The Vacation” by Jaxson Shealy, Coppell High School (TX)
  • “Jane” by Miriam Crews, homeschool (CO)
  • “Like Frogs” by Allie Williams, Bixby High School (OK)
  • untitled, by Lily Neusaenger, McLean High School (VA)
  • “Anomaly” by Carol King, Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TX)



1st place: “What I Remember” by Quinn Fireside, Baltimore School for the Arts (MD)
Judges' Comments: "Important topic, compelling voice, arresting details--it all combines to propel the reader through this remarkable piece. The author turns trauma into art. 'I remember,' the narrator intones, and the reader can't forget what she says."

2nd place: ”We Do Not Apologize Now” by Jordan Ferdman, Horace Mann School (NYC)
Judges' Comments: "The writer made an inspired choice to narrate this essay in first-person plural, capturing adolescent girls' longing for a role model. The language and details are spot-on. The writer seems wise beyond her years."

3rd place: “Lies, etc.” by Tyler Kellogg (Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities (SC)
Judges' Comments: "The writer skillfully blends love and disappointment in this portrait of a father's ambitions and shortcomings. The essay opens with a game of Monopoly, and the extended metaphor is both appropriate and deftly meted out."


Honorable Mentions

  • “911, What’s Your Emergency?” by Jenny Sanz, Bishop Moore Catholic High School (FL)
  • “Math Papers” by Amanda Clark, Northern Highlands Regional High School (NJ)
  • “Throughlines” by Anya Shukla, Lakeside School (WA)
  • “Leaf. Leaves. Love Leaves.” by Audrey Haber, Northern Highlands Regional High School (NJ)
  • “How to Tell Your Friends You Love Them” by Samantha Haviland, Interlochen Arts Academy (MI)
  • “The Lawyer’s Daughter” by Carly Noble, Summit High School (NJ)
  • “Tube Lights and Milkshakes” by Rachel Sun, Henry M. Gunn High School (CA)





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